Archive for October, 2010

It was a joy to read Betsy was a Junior for the Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Challenge.  It may be my favorite of the three I have read (the other two being Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself).  I may feel that way less because it is a better book, however, than the fact that the more I know Betsy and her crowd the more I like them.

Maud Hart Lovelace’s attention to detail really makes these books sing.  For some reason, the line “Petticoats this year were sheath-fitting to the knees, then foamed out into lace” really struck me.  I had always lumped petticoats into some sort of of uniform old-fashioned garment–and thinking about them changing styles year by year really brought me into the Betsy’s room as she and Tib prepared for the dance. The girls always have so much fun preparing for these events–even though they love boys, their friendships are more important to them.  Just as Mr. Big said to Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, before he went off the get Carrie in Paris.

The descriptions of food always make me hungry.  My favorite in this volume might have been the menu for the junior-senior dance, with its “highly intellectual flavor” thanks to Joe.  I would also love to have a peach pecan sundae at Heinz or a Domestic Science roast chicken.  And of course one of Mr. Ray’s onion sandwiches.

Tony’s dark turn in this book surprised me–I wasn’t expecting that one of Betsy’s friends would  take to hanging out in pool halls, coming to school drunk and hanging around with “perfectly awful girls.” But that, and Julia’s struggles with a sorority off at the U and her longing to go to Europe to study singing, gave the book a depth I liked. Even though Betsy, so far, is so focused on her friends and family in Deep Valley, the rest of the world is seeping in.

I can’t wait to read the rest of the books.  While I am anxious to see how Betsy’s last year in high school turns out, I also really want to read Carney’s House Party.  My great grandmother went to Vassar, about 10 years before Carney would have been there.   I recently found a trove of letters between my grandmother and her classmates from the 1960s.  Vassar was organizing its centennial, and my grandmother was trying to make sure that 100% of her class donated money.  The letters are fascinating, giving a detailed portrait of the women who had graduated from a women’s college at the beginning of the century.   So I want to see how Carney liked the school.

I’m looking forward to reading the other participant’s experiences.  And thanks to A Library a  Hospital for the Mind for hosting.

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Dugan expresses mild curiosity.

It look a few hours, some pieces of misinformation, and several cranky phone calls to UPS, but the book is at last in my hands.  It is strange to see years of work condensed into such a small package, but it is also very satisfying.

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Shortly after my talk on Harriet Hosmer at the Providence Athenaeum last week, the Athenaeum’s photographer asked me to record a short overview of my talk for the Athenaeum’s YouTube channel.  It was off the cuff, and it is more than a little horrifying for me to watch myself speak, but I think it gives a good sense of the topic.

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Jane Austen’s Editor

A major theme in my biography of Hosmer is how she and her supporters shaped her public image and the difference between her public and private selves.  I was therefore very interested in the story on NPR about the role Austen’s editor played in her writing.  While Austen’s brother had claimed “Everything came finished from her pen,” the Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland has found a very different story in her close examination of Austen’s manuscripts.  Sutherland suggests Austen fans and scholars stop ‘polishing Austen’s halo’ and dig into the process of how her works took on the form we know and love, for we hold few other author’s to such high standards.  A fascinating tale.

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I had a wonderful time speaking at the salon at the Providence Athenaeum last night.  There was a crowd of about 60 people, who were lively, engaged, and excited to learn more about Harriet Hosmer.  What more could I ask for?  Well, sherry served in antique glasses, tart apples dusted with cinnamon, and a beautiful room full of books for a start.  If anyone happens to find him or herself in Providence, stop in and take a look around.  Make sure to pay tribute the Athenaeum’s patron goddess Athena, who sits above the circulation desk.

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My article on Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel version of The Odyssey ran in PW Comics Week yesterday.  The book is a beautiful edition published by Candlewick; it is a great introduction to the story for younger (but not too young) readers, but adults with a yen for the epic or graphic novels should love it too.  I really enjoyed interviewing Hinds and especially appreciated the fact that he thanked his 9th grade English teacher, who first assigned him the poem.  In an odd little coincidence, Hinds until recently lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, Harriet Hosmer’s hometown.  (If you are interested in graphic novels and comics, I encourage you to sign up for the PW Comics Week newsletter, always jam packed with news and reviews).

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A friend of mine from graduate school who lives and teaches in South Korea sent me two links to sites that describe the biography in Korean.  Amazing!

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